NCMC: Back to Basics

Returning to its roots, the Nantucket Music Center has added “Community” back into its name and restructured its operation.

by: Lucy Turnipseed

photography by: Terry Pommett

The Nantucket Community Music Center has made a move to switch its focus and concentrate its efforts back on the needs of those it serves – primarily music students – as opposed to spending time and money on fundraising galas or bringing in world-class performers, which the organization believes is important, but not its function.

“For now, the Nantucket Community Music Center will focus on its students, ensembles and faculty: music for the people by the (island) people,” board president Deborah Beale said. “If you ask most people, they still know it as “NCMC.” I look forward to using the ‘Community’ in our name because our center is for everyone.”

Intern instructor Sam Panner, left, with a violin student.

“In transitioning, we’re doing what our mission is saying we do,” said Gabrielle Gould, departing director.

Five years ago, ReMain Nantucket helped the Nantucket Community Music Center move from upstairs at 11 Centre St., which it had to vacate each summer, to its current location at 56 Centre St., a space it shares with the Nantucket Community School. ReMain finances the space but is not involved with the operation.

“Our goal in leasing part of the building to the music center was to have it become a community space where students could learn to love and play music,” said ReMain executive director Melissa Philbrick, who retired at the end of the summer.

At the time of the move, a number of additional management positions were created. Three years later, “Community” was removed from the name.

“Everyone felt the need to create positions for development and administration to go along with the new space,” Gould said of how the more corporate approach emerged.

In reality, however, in order to run in the black, the budget spent on administrative salaries had to be cut unless the NCMC wanted to increase the amount of fundraising work it did, thereby straying further from its original goals, Gould said.

Following a 2016 audit, she realized the current model was not sustainable.

“If I was charged with anything, it would be to have the school here 10, 15 years down the road,” she said.

Returning to a community music school also offered the opportunity to fix the budgeting issues, Gould said. “We thought, ‘why not break even?’”

“With a small annual appeal and several committed grantors, the NCMC will be a financial as well as a teaching success,” Gould said.

Carolyn Butler, head of faculty and programming, will now be at the forefront of the nonprofit.

“Carolyn runs a beautiful school,” Gould said. “She is the liaison between the students, teachers and parents, the heart of the organization, pumping blood to everything.”

Butler has been a piano teacher for 11 years, an administrator for two and annually teaches between 19 and 27 students.

“I love teaching, it’s where my heart is first,” Butler said.

“That’s what I love about this. It will run smoothly, there will be communication and parents and teachers will all know what’s happening,” Gould said of Butler’s primary loyalty to teaching and her experience with both the NCMC and parents’ perspectives.

Butler emphasized the quality of the faculty and lessons and ensemble programs that will continue to be at the center of the newly-rejuvenated Nantucket Community Music Center.

“Music just makes people happy, relaxes and centers them, brings us out of isolation and brings us together,” Butler said.

“There are myriad studies that show the importance of music on a child’s brain: intellectually, emotionally, physically – some people will even say spiritually. In fact, it is well known that learning an instrument contributes to brain health for people of all ages,” Beale said of the importance of a teaching focus.

The driving force behind the NCMC are the teachers, who range in age from 28 to 101. Susie Jarrell was the first NCMC teacher in 1975, and is still active and eager to teach at the age of 101.

“I am charged to provide instruction for all instruments,” Butler said of the offerings that range from violin and harp to saxophone and guitar.

“The Nantucket Community Music Center is the only organization on the island to offer a wide variety of music lessons, covering everything from voice to mandolin. We also have the resources to support those students. For the many piano students who do not own a piano and for others interested, there are practice rooms,” Beale said.

Most teachers live on the island, with a few commuting and teaching virtually, from as close as Cape Cod to as far away as New Orleans, La., in order to provide the breadth of instruments and depth of instruction needed.

Under the new structure, Butler hopes to cultivate and expand the community involvement and student collaborations that already exist.

Mollie Glazer, a cello and ukulele band teacher, facilitates a music-therapy program that brings students to the Our Island Home nursing home and Sherburne Commons elder-living community to play.

“I want to get the students out there more to play for the community more,” Butler said.

New projects in the works include a second youth jazz band that will feed into the existing one run by Nigel Goss, and another collaborative ensemble in addition to the seven current ensemble groups, including a community chorus and chamber group.

“Part of our goal is facilitating student collaboration,” Butler said.

Seeing bonds form, participants learning together and coming back year after year are Butler’s favorite parts of being at the Nantucket Community Music Center.

As of Monday, Aug. 6, office manager Laura Doran took over all administrative tasks and Gould’s last day before becoming a consultant to the board will be Friday, Sept. 14.

“What this school offers our year-round community is not something that can be replicated or that any other group offers,” Gould said.

“I know that with a focus on lessons, ensembles and our remarkable faculty, the NCMC is going to thrive.” ///

Lucy Turnipseed was a staff writer this summer at The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821. She is a freshman at Dartmouth College.

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